Random Games: Best to Worst

What Remains of Edith Finch

This game is (sometimes meanly) referred to as a “walking sim,” meaning, it’s light on gameplay and more focused on guiding the player through a choreographed story. This particular story is about a young woman named Edith Finch revisiting her family home, and crawling through secret passages as she remembers how and why each member of the Finch family died.

The coolest thing about the game is that each How Did They Die sequence is unique in terms of visual style and gameplay, in a way that seems to correspond with the characters being discussed. For example, one member of the family was a child actor who ended up starring in B-movies – the story of how she died as an adult is told like an interactive slasher movie with a tongue-in-cheek ending. Another family member died as a child, probably from eating something poisonous, but the story of her death is a surreal dream-like adventure where she transforms into a cat, a bird, and a monster.

As fantastical as the individual side stories are, the main story is an extremely sombre meditation on loss and on the private worlds that disappear when someone dies. It’s a good story, and the execution is inventive, but it definitely does stretch the definition of “game.” I think we’re still, collectively, maybe two steps away from finding a new genre that’s not quite a novel and not quite a game, and I’m really excited to see what that genre is when someone discovers it – but Edith Finch isn’t there yet.

Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator

Dating sims aren’t my jam, but this game was so weirdly specific (and popular on the internet) that I gave it a try. Basically, you are a single dad dating other dads, with seven potential suitors to choose from. Along the way, you also have to manage your relationship with your teenage daughter.

The thing I dislike most about dating sims is that they gamify relationships in a way that makes it seem as though your main job in seducing someone is to figure out what they want you to say and do, and then say and do those things, whether or not it’s sincere, so that they’ll sleep with you. Because of that, I decided to play as authentically as possible and see who, if anyone, my character matched with in the end – and, big surprise, he matched with the emotionally unavailable loner. I don’t know why I ever pretended there was another possibility.

The main beef I have with Dream Daddy, besides it being a lot to read, is that its success state is not all that rewarding. I scored really well on my dates with the avoidant loner, but all that resulted in was him breaking up with me so he could find himself and be a better person. Just for fun, I googled to see what happens if you score well with the closeted youth pastor (who was, of course, my second choice), and it seems like, in the victory ending, he patches things up with his wife.

Maybe the other endings involve less eternal singlehood, or maybe I need to be more flexible in what I consider a successful relationship, or maybe my character was just doomed from the start because he had me guiding him, but it still seems weird to me that scoring well on the dates leads to being alone.

Trine and Trine 2

The Trine games are side-scrolling platformers where the gimmick is that you can switch between three different characters as you overcome challenges, kill goblins, and solve puzzles in order to rescue a kingdom. Each of the characters has different abilities – the wizard can conjure and manipulate objects with magic; the thief can grapple and fire a bow; the knight can fight with a sword, shield, and hammer – and the challenges seem deliberately designed so that there is more than one possible solution.

Trine 2 is definitely much more developed in terms of story, and much more complex in terms of location design, physics, and game mechanics. Of the two, I’d say that’s the best one to play – and it does make for an enjoyable platformer.

The issue I have with both games is that they’re too chaotic. While I appreciate leaving the puzzles and challenges a little open-ended, I often didn’t feel like I solved them so much as like I cheated them, or accidentally tumbled through them without doing anything. There are a lot of cases where you can just kind of chuck random objects toward an obstacle and then jump really hard to get past it. In the first game, I even skipped past a boss fight by determinedly running away.

The problem this causes for me is twofold – firstly, I don’t feel much of a sense of accomplishment from solving these puzzles by accident or from chucking stuff at a cactus until it randomly bends in a way that I can technically jump over because the game mechanics are forgiving. I want to know what the intended solution was and get some kind of feedback about whether I managed to find it. Secondly, because getting past the challenges didn’t require much skill, I never learned how to master the controls, and it was pretty common for me to discover that the characters had abilities I had never used or even really known about.

On top of the chaos, there are other features that make the games too easy. You can restore all of your health and resurrect dead party members by touching any of the checkpoints, which are strategically positioned near the most difficult sections. It’s a totally valid strategy to, for instance, make a flailing kamikaze run at a boss, get killed, touch the checkpoint, and flail some more. Trine 2 also allows you to redistribute your skill tree points as many times as you want, whenever you want, meaning that your choice of which skills to invest in has no real consequence. After a certain point, the characters can have any skill you want or need at any time, as long as you’re willing to mess with the skill tree for a few minutes.

All in all, I didn’t not enjoy playing these games, but the whole thing blurred together in a wave of confusion.

Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7

I suddenly got really into re-watching the Harry Potter movies last year, which suddenly spurred a desire to play the other videogame based on those movies. I enjoyed this one slightly more than I enjoyed the first Lego Harry Potter, partly because I understood the basic format and controls for the game going in, and partly because – my subjective perception, based on no fact-checking whatsoever is that – I got to play a wider range of characters during the story-based levels.

I still question the concept of having a game where literally every single problem is solved by blowing shit up with your wand, but it’s not like it isn’t fun to blow shit up with a wand.

Moon Hunters

We’re now descending into the ranks where I literally didn’t understand what I was playing. Moon Hunters is a cyclical, non-linear RPG where you just continually create characters and send them on the same doomed quest to find out what’s up with the moon and defeat an army that’s invading your lands. There’s a limited time clock, so every choice you make ticks you closer to destruction, and you need to maximize the amount of new information and resources you can gather before your character’s story ends, and the whole thing restarts with someone else.

I find the premise interesting, but I had trouble understanding whether I was making progress.

ICEY

ICEY is a side-scrolling combat game where a narrator tells you what to do and you have the option of whether to obey or stray from the path. I feel like my experience might have been better if I had started off obeying the narrator to see where that led me, and learn how the game was structured in the absence of any interference. Unfortunately, we live in an age where The Path and The Stanley Parable exist, so I immediately did the opposite of what I was told, and was plunged head first into a whirlwind of confusing, non-linear story elements about the title character’s android origins.

I couldn’t tell if I was doing well or not. I couldn’t tell if the objective was to progress to the final battle the narrator wanted me to go to. I couldn’t tell if the information I was learning by doggedly running the other direction was supposed to bias me against the narrator’s plan, or illuminate the narrator’s plan, or just confuse me, or what.

I couldn’t even say “Oh, that’s interesting” about this because I literally didn’t know what “that” was.

Image: What Remains of Edith Finch; Annapurna Interactive | December 8, 2017